Senate committee OK's immunity for state employees - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Senate committee OK's immunity for state employees

The Collar family filed several lawsuits attempting to seek some kind of justice for Gil's death but they were either dismissed or put on hold, citing immunity statutes. The Collar family filed several lawsuits attempting to seek some kind of justice for Gil's death but they were either dismissed or put on hold, citing immunity statutes.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jones, who's been working on the immunity proposal for nearly a year, says his bill isn't designed to protect state employees who do their jobs in bad faith or outside of the law. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jones, who's been working on the immunity proposal for nearly a year, says his bill isn't designed to protect state employees who do their jobs in bad faith or outside of the law.
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure Wednesday that would extend statutory civil immunity to all state employees in their official capacities serving the state.

That means state workers, meaning everyone from teachers and police officers to custodians and department heads, would be protected under the law from lawsuits that challenge them for damages.

"This was long overdue," said State Rep. Mike Jones, R – Andalusia. "I was actually surprised to find out that we don't protect our education employees as much as we should and in the course of the research we saw that there was an extreme need, not just for certified teachers, also for the non-certified employees like cafeteria workers, maintenance workers and this bill addresses all of those."

Alabama is one of only five states that doesn't provide specific immunity for state employees. Forty-five states provide legal protection in some form for their state employees.

Reed and Bonnie Collar are both state employees. Reed works for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and Bonnie works for the Retirement Systems of Alabama. If it wasn't for the death of their son and their current legal situation, they wouldn't have a problem with the legislation, and they would likely embrace it.

"What happened to him as far as the decisions that were made and what led to what happened could happen to any young person," Bonnie Collar said. "We're trying to look out for future parents."

Gil Collar was a freshman at the University of South Alabama in October 2012 when he was shot and killed during an altercation with a university police officer.

According to the Mobile District Attorney, Collar had ingested some sort of chemical substance, which led to his erratic behavior and eventual encounter with a USA police officer who eventually fatally shot him.

The Collar family filed several lawsuits attempting to seek some kind of justice for Gil's death but they were either dismissed or put on hold, citing immunity statutes. A grand jury eventually cleared the officer involved in the shooting of any wrongdoing.

For the Collars, they say there needs to be exceptions in the law for certain legal circumstances.

"We're concerned about the case where someone's life has been taken or their ability to work a job and make money and enjoy life. The basic civil freedom," Reed Collar said. "To say nobody's held responsible for it, you're going to have to explain that to me because I cannot understand how somebody's not responsible for it and now they're putting a lot more people under the umbrella."

Bonnie added, "We were told that [USA] would take care of our son when we dropped him off."

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jones, who's been working on the immunity proposal for nearly a year, says his bill isn't designed to protect state employees who do their jobs in bad faith or outside of the law.

"This is for those teachers and those employees that frankly, they go to work every day. They work well within the scope of their duties and they do a great job and we unfortunately don't protect them as much as we should," Jones said.

Jones clarified that in the case of a police officer who's been accused of misconduct, if an investigation found that he or she was in fact responsible in an instance where something was done with malicious intent or something similar, the immunity provision would not apply to them.

The immunity bill has wide bipartisan support. It passed by a 94-0 margin in the Alabama House. The bill will next be heard by the Alabama Senate.

Copyright 2014 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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